What is a hernia?

A hernia is a medical issue that involves a piece of tissue pushing through a weak spot in the abdominal wall muscles, creating a bulge and often associated pain. This can be fatty tissue pushing through, or your intestines or bowels.

There are a few different types of hernias, the most common include:

  • Umbilical –tissue bulging occurring at the belly button
  • Inguinal – tissue bulges through the lower abdominal wall into the groin
  • Incisional – when a person has abdominal surgery, and the incisional site weakens over time, tissue bulging can occur at that site
  • Hiatal – a part of the stomach bulges into the diaphragm causing extreme heartburn
  • Epigastric – occurs above the belly button but below the ribcage

How is this caused?

A herniation happens from a natural or congenital weakness, such as at the belly button when your umbilical cord falls off as a baby and it is the last part of the abdomen to form. Another way a hernia occurs is at an incisional site, meaning if you had an abdominal surgery at one point and the surgeon stitched up the site, that area can weaken over time allowing for a hernia to occur. Otherwise, muscles can weaken over time with age, weight gain, or in women during or after pregnancy.

How do you fix a hernia?

Hernias are repaired through surgery, where the surgeon will go in and tighten up the weak spot or hole in the herniated area. Surgery can be done openly if the problem is a large hernia, or laparoscopically if it is small. Laparoscopic repair is a minimally invasive procedure that is performed through a few small incisions and the patient goes home the same day. A minimally invasive approach is beneficial to the patient as there is less pain, fewer healing complications, and quicker recovery and return to normal life with this option.

A hiatal hernia, however, is usually treated with heartburn medication. If a patient with this type of hernia is not finding relief with medication, they may be considered for surgery which most often yields incredible results.

Is repair always necessary?

A hernia does not always need to be repaired. The main reasons a hernia is repaired are to alleviate any pain or bulging a patient is experiencing, to avoid any future risk of complications associated with the hernia, or even for cosmetic reasons such as a bulge is created that the patient doesn’t like. In some cases, a piece of the intestine can get pinched in the hernia and blood supply can be cut off, which could lead to the death of the intestine and other fatal complications. This is why it’s important to be examined if you are experiencing pain or bulging in the abdomen.

Sometimes, a hernia is small and low risk enough that repair isn’t necessary. However, it is always important to discuss options with your doctor because fixing a low-risk, small hernia electively is much more preferred to fixing an emergent hernia once possible damage has already been done. Discussing your specific condition with your physician allows all options to be explored as well as the opportunity to keep an eye on a hernia throughout time to avoid any severe complications.

Why wouldn’t you repair a hernia?

As mentioned above, some hernias aren’t problematic enough to a point of needing repair. Another reason a repair may not be the best option is if the patient is too ill or in bad health to undergo a successful surgery and recovery. For example, if you smoke, are overweight, don’t eat well, have diabetes, high blood pressure, or any other types of infection at the time of surgery, it is more likely that healing complications will occur either with the wound or developing an infection afterward. If the surgery is elective, your surgeon will want to optimize these conditions as much as possible before performing the procedure. If you are waiting to have a hernia surgery until health conditions are optimized, there are items out there such as a hernia belt that wraps around the abdomen and minimizes discomfort while doing daily activities. Other things necessary for a successful hernia surgery are being well-rested, hydrated, and otherwise as healthy as possible.

We’re Here to Help

Hernias may not always be a cause for concern, however, if you notice a bulge and experience abdominal pain while bending, lifting, or even coughing, you should be examined by your family doctor. There are cases where another health condition may be occurring that mimics a hernia, which again leads to the importance of investigating the issue. Hernias do not get better on their own, so if you are experiencing symptoms a surgical repair may be necessary. It is possible to have multiple hernias occur at once, and often a surgeon can repair them all in the same surgery. General surgeons are dedicated to helping people, and our surgeons get gratification from being able to relieve discomfort for their patients on the same day. If you suspect you have a hernia, meet with your family doctor for an exam. Our team of talented and experienced surgeons would be happy to have a consultation with you to discuss treatment options.